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Lars Lih

Lessons of the Comintern experience, by Helen Scott, John Riddell and Lars Lih

May 12, 2012 -- LeftStreamed, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Three presentations from the Historical Materialism conference in Toronto on May 11–13.

Presentations by:

  • Helen Scott, University of Vermont – "Rebuilding the International: Rosa Luxemburg and the Comintern";
  • John Riddell, "The Workers' Government: Fiction, Pseudonym or Transition";
  • Lars T. Lih, "From 'Party of an Old Type' to 'Party of a New Type'".

New voices and new views on revolutionary history

By John Riddell

May 28, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/johnriddell.wordpress.com -- Some familiar issues were addressed with originality and new vigour at the Historical Materialism conference in Toronto on May 11–13. Attendance at the three sessions on revolutionary history, organised by Abigail Bakan (Queen’s University), ranged between 30 and 75 of the 400 conference participants.

Given that eight of 11 presentations had a European focus, the discussions were opened fittingly by Montreal scholar Daria Dyakonova with a paper on a little-studied aspect of revolutionary history here in Canada: the birth of communism in Quebec.

The pioneers of this movement faced objective obstacles, including severe repression and formidable opposition by the Catholic Church. In addition, Dyakonova explained, “after Lenin and especially after 1929”, the Canadian Communist Party’s “policies were determined from Moscow”. The line dictated by the leadership of the Communist International (Comintern) was “often at odds with national or local needs”.

Lars Lih: How Lenin's party became (Bolshevik)

By Lars T. Lih

May 17, 2012 -- Weekly Worker -- Did Lenin seek to exclude Mensheviks from Russia's revolutionary organisation in order to forge a "party of a new type"?

From 1898 on, there existed a political party called the Rossiiskaia sotsial-demokraticheskaia rabochaia partiia (RSDRP), or Russian Social Democratic Worker Party. Rossiiskaia means “Russian” in the sense of citizens of the Russian state, as opposed to russkaia, which refers to ethnic Russians. Of course, the party title made no reference to either of its two later factions, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks.

At its 7th Congress in March 1918, this party officially changed its name to Rossiiskaia kommunisticheskaia partiia (bol’shevikov) or RKP(B). The party now referred to itself as "Bolshevik", even if only in parentheses. The question arises: did the party ever have an intermediate title such as RSDRP(B) -- for example, during the period from April 1917 to March 1918?

No. The label "RSDRP(B)" was occasionally used informally in 1917 (for reasons to be discussed later), along with other improvised labels. Nevertheless, a party with the name "RSDRP(B)" never existed.

Paul Le Blanc responds to Lars Lih: Bolshevism and party building – convergence and questions


[Click HERE to follow the entire debate on Lenin.]

By Paul Le Blanc

May 5, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Revolutionary upheavals are made possible by the coming together of a number of diverse factors, one of which is the organisation, accumulation of experience and proliferating influence of conscious revolutionaries.

“Did the Bolshevik Party become the leading party of the Russian proletariat, and hence the Russian nation, by chance?”, asked Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci in 1924. A brilliant and knowledgeable analyst, he answered his own question: “The selection process lasted thirty years; it was extremely arduous; it often assumed what appeared to be the strangest and most absurd forms.” He added that the process involved “struggles of factions and small groups; ... it meant splits and fusions ...” (Gramsci, Selections from Political Writings 1921-1926: 210).

Paul Le Blanc: The birth of the Bolshevik party in 1912

Portrait of Lenin by Isaac Israelovich Brodskii, 1924.

[Click HERE to follow the entire debate on Lenin.] 

By Paul Le Blanc

April 17, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- How odd it would be, one century after the fact, to hear the following over the air waves: NEWS FLASH! THE BOLSHEVIKS BECAME A POLITICAL PARTY IN 1912! In fact, it was the opposite “news” that flashed across a little corner of the internet’s far-left end. A young activist in the US socialist movement, Pham Binh, making positive reference to the outstanding contributions of historian Lars Lih in challenging myths regarding Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s revolutionary organisational perspectives, advanced his own challenging re-interpretation of Lenin’s thought and practice, claiming to have exploded “the myth that the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks separated into two parties in 1912.”[1]

Gramsci in 1923: notes on the crucial year for his Leninism

More articles on Gramsci at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

By Jonathan Strauss

April 14, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Among those who are sympathetic to the views of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), two views have developed about the significance of his political theorising.

One is that Gramsci -- a leader of the Turin workers’ movement in the years at and immediately after the end of World War I, a founding member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and later the PCI secretary from 1923 until his jailing by the fascists in 1926, and author of the Prison Notebooks -- was “of the early-1920s Lenin-Trotsky stripe” (Thomas 2010). Beyond upholding these Marxists’ common revolutionary commitment, however, this view proceeds from a partial reading not so much of Gramsci as of Lenin, and especially on a particular understanding of his What Is to Be Done? (1902), which in turn prevents a more profound understanding of Gramsci’s relationship with Lenin’s thought.

Paul Le Blanc: 1912 and 2012

[Click HERE to follow the entire debate on Lenin.]

By Paul Le Blanc

April 5, 2012 -- Weekly Worker, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- I would like to respond to two problematical contentions advanced by Pham Binh in his article ‘Wanting to get Lenin wrong’ (Weekly Worker, March 29, 2012). One of these contentions is about my motivation for disagreeing with his interpretation of Lenin’s thought, and the other has to do with a historical question -- when the Bolsheviks became a separate party. This is part of an extended debate having to do with history and politics (Lenin and the Bolsheviks; tasks facing socialists today). My own contributions touching on these questions can be found at http://links.org.au/taxonomy/term/579.

The Lenin wars: Over a Cliff with Lars Lih

Nadezhda Krupskaya and Lenin with journalist Lincoln Eure in the Kremlin, February 1920.

[Click HERE to follow the entire debate on Tony Cliff's Lenin.]

By Paul Le Blanc

February 19, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- There has been a competing set of political agendas underlying the recently initiated historical debate over how to understand Lenin and the Bolsheviks. From the standpoint of revolutionary socialism, this aspect of the debate is hardly cause for dismay. As activists we are appropriately attempting to get a handle on “what is to be done”. This does not absolve us of the responsibility to get the history right. But for Marxists the point is not simply to understand history, but also make use of such understanding to help change the world.

Lars Lih: Falling out over a Cliff

Click HERE to follow the entire debate on Tony Cliff's Lenin. For more discussion on revolutionary organisation, click HERE.More articles by Lars Lih are available at http://links.org.au/taxonomy/term/500.

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Remarks on the 1905 Congress and the 1912 conference of the Russian Social Democratic Worker Party (RSDWP)

By Lars T. Lih

Lenin and us: Into the past, back to the future

Cover of Lars Lih's latest book, Lenin (London: Reaktion Books, 2011).

By Paul Le Blanc

June 14, 2011 -- Europe Solidare Sans Frontieres -- I will never forget, as the 20th century trudged through its final decade, a once-close comrade telling me and others that developments of our time had consigned the Leninist conception of the party to “the dustbin of history”. Yet its dusty tracks may be something we will discover as we make our way into the near future. Polemical sparks spraying out from those engaged in the vibrant renewal of Lenin scholarship suggest that it still has life.

In 2008 – while on a Left Forum panel entitled “Lenin’s Return”, and in surveying the recent proliferation of works on Lenin at that time, including Lars Lih’s huge and important book Lenin Rediscovered – I said:

Lars T. Lih: ‘We must dream!’ Echoes of `What Is to Be Done?’ in Lenin’s later career

[Talk given at the US International Socialist Organization’s Socialism 2010 conference, Chicago, June 2010. Posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with Lars Lih's permission. Lars T. Lih's Lenin, a short volume in the Critical Lives series of Reaktion Books, will be published later this year. Click here for a special offer. Read more by and about Lars T. Lih HERE. You can also read more about Lenin HERE.]

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By Lars T. Lih

Lars T. Lih: Scotching the myths about Lenin's `What is to be done'

By Lars T. Lih

October 21 2010 -- Weekly Worker -- What is to be done? was written for the first time in Russian between the autumn of 1901 and spring of 1902. It was a success among the rather limited number of people he was addressing: namely the people in the social-democratic [as revolutionary socialism was still know as] movement in Russia and interested parties. Of course, this audience was not sufficient to make it a real bestseller, but it did have an impact. When we look at the pamphlet today we want to have a sense of when, why and for whom he wrote it.

So, first, I am going to look at the basic task that Lenin and his comrades had set themselves. The reason for this is that he shared this task with other leaders in the movement, and even with some of the people he is arguing against. But, because he shares it, it is not actually set out in the book itself. It becomes background; because he assumes agreement on the basic task, he does not talk about it. We have to be aware of this.

Lars T. Lih's contribution to a Leninism for the 21st century

Lenin Rediscovered: What Is To Be Done? In Context
By Lars T. Lih, Haymarket Books, Chicago 2008, 840 pages

Review by Barry Healy

If a spectre haunted 19th century Europe, as Marx said of the embryonic communist movement, then the name of Lenin was no ghost for the 20th century bourgeoisie, it was a terrifying reality.

For the capitalists, with Leninism the communist phantom came howling out of the underworld, beginning with the 1917 Russian Revolution, sweeping whole continents clean of capitalist rule. Millions of human beings found their life’s purpose in learning from and extending into their own national contexts the ideas of Lenin.

Epic intellectual – and sometimes bitter, physical – conflicts have been waged over the meaning of Lenin’s ideas. Among leftists, the Trotskyists in particular, to their ever-lasting credit, argued for a revolutionary, liberationist reading of Lenin, in defiance of Stalin’s bureaucratic evisceration, often at the cost of their lives.

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